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Unicoi County Commission opposes proposed connector trail

The Unicoi County Commission met on Monday, Oct. 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. Pictured, from left, are members Todd Wilcox, Marie Rice, Jason Harris, Loren Thomas, Matthew Rice and Jamie Harris. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission made it clear that they would not support any proposed plans for a Biking Trail Grant that would include the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi and would include a one mile stretch of Unicoi County.

During a meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, the county’s governing body voted 7-1 to oppose any future plans for a biking trail that would include Unicoi County, following a motion to oppose made by Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley and a second from Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox.

The trail in question is the same trail that was presented to the Town of Erwin on Sept. 12, and the Town of Unicoi on Sept. 16. During the Sept. 12 meeting, CDM Smith project managers Chris Kirby and Melody Butler were on hand to present a proposed plan to build a 4.5 mile, multi-use bike and pedestrian trail that would connect Erwin’s Linear Trail to Unicoi’s Pinnacle Trail. The proposed trail would run along Highway 107 from Erwin to Unicoi.

According to Kirby, if the towns move forward with the project, then the planning stage can begin to look for grants and start talking numbers.

During the Oct. 28 Unicoi County Commission meeting, Commissioner Matthew Rice wanted to clarify that there has been no official plan made yet in regards to the trail.

“To be clear, there hasn’t been a project set for this; it’s just a study,” Matthew Rice said.

According to Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, the commission has already opposed this study once.

“The county chose not to participate when this was first brought up,” Thomas said.

Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris opposed the trail because of the potential long term costs.

“I’m concerned that if a trail is put in, we would be on the hook for the upkeep of that mile stretch,” Jamie Harris said.

For Mosley, the decision to make a motion to oppose the trail was an easy one.

“Nobody I’ve talked to wants this trail,” Mosley said. “If they did, I would consider it.”

Mosley, Wilcox, Thomas and Jamie Harris were joined by Unicoi County commissioners Marie Rice, Jason Harris and Stephen Hendrix in opposition of any future plans for a biking trail. Matthew Rice was the only vote against opposing any future plans. Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White was absent from the meeting.

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In other business, the commission voted unanimously to approve a contract for Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley to hire a school resource officer (SRO) at Love Chapel Elementary.

It was announced in September that Unicoi County Schools had won a $35,000 grant to hire an SRO. The grant is for one year. The motion to approve came from Jamie Harris and Mosley seconded Harris’ motion.

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The commission also voted unanimously on Monday to send out requests for proposals (RFP) on equipment for a communications project at Flag Pond and Martins Creek.

The Martins Creek project was originally projected to be funded from hospital funds, which is currently at $242,000, while funding for the Flag Pond project was to be determined. According to the projected estimates, each project could cost between $9,000-$11,000 and would include new repeaters being installed.

According to Wilcox, the projects will help first responders in areas where communication issues exist.

“I’m trying to do this so not only will our first responders be safe, but so will our citizens,” Wilcox said.

The commission decided Monday to hold off on any proposed payment plan for the projects until the RFP comes back. According to Wilcox, this will give the commission time to look for any grants that may be available.

Prior to the unanimous vote, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely had a request.

“It needs to be added to the RFP that the county reserves the right to accept or reject bids,” Evely said.

While the commission was discussing communication issues in the county, Wilcox expressed concern about the lack of cell service in Limestone Cove.

“I’m still beating my head against the wall with these companies,” Wilcox said.

The commission has been working to try to get any of the national cell providers to put up a cell tower in Limestone Cove, but have not had any success.

“We will continue to try and do what we can,” Marie Rice said.

• • •

The commission agreed unanimously to appoint Thomas to the Unicoi County Records Committee and to report debt obligations for county school projects to the state, which Evely said was just part of the process in regards to the capital outlay note for upgrades to Unicoi County Schools.

The commission also voted to enter into a mutual aid agreement with Unicoi County, UCSD and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) relative to Mutual Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, and Medical Assistance at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park (RFSP) that would allow first responders to serve citizens in need of help inside of RFSP.

The county also joined in nationwide opioid litigation by taking no action on the matter. According to Unicoi County lawyer Doug Shults, by not taking action on the matter, the county would automatically be added to the nationwide lawsuit.

“No action may be the best option,” Shults said.

For the last order of business, the commission voted on a new time for the Unicoi County Commission meetings starting in January 2020. The commission voted 7-1 to meet on the fourth Monday of each month at 5 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. Mosley made the motion to change the time and Jamie Harris seconded Mosley’s motion.

“I make a motion that we change the time to meet from 6 to 5 o’clock if the commission agrees,” Mosley said.

Joining Mosley and Jamie Harris in approving the time change were Thomas, Wilcox, Hendrix, Marie Rice, and Matthew Rice. Jason Harris was the only opposition to the time change.

“I’m concerned that people that work may not have a chance to get here,” Jason Harris said.

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to meet again on Monday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m.